FREE Recycling of PLA 3D Printing Waste

As of April 2024, Filamentive now offer existing customers FREE PLA 3D printing waste recycling. All existing customers in the UK who have spent a minimum of £500 + VAT on PLA 3D Printer Filament products through our website are eligible for our free recycling box scheme. Our partners 3D Printing Waste (3DPW) will receive your filled recycling box once returned and take care of the entire recycling process, cost-free!

Recycle for FREE

3D printing generates large amounts of waste, caused by failed prints and / or rejected support structures.

In fact, this HSSMI report infers that 33% of 3D prints become waste. In the UK alone, this could be around 379,000 kg of waste plastic generated annually, as per a 2023 Filamentive article.

Given there is no established end of life (EoL) processing system for 3D printed parts, this post seeks to explore the practical recycling options available to 3D printing users when it comes to waste PLA material.

The PLA Problem

PLA filament is the most common material used for 3D printing. Short for polylactic acid, PLA is a bioplastic derived from plant-based sources such as sugarcane. A 2019 survey reported that more than 95% of 3D printing users use PLA.

Recycling PLA is a problem. As per a 2019 BBC article, plant-based bioplastics – such as PLA – have become so advanced that it is hard to differentiate it from traditional plastics, thus presenting challenges during recycling. At the time of writing, it was reported that plant-based compostable plastics (such as PLA) are going to landfill rather than recycling because councils (in Wales) are unable to deal with them.

PLA is purportedly marketed as biodegradable, however, it is important to note that PLA is only biodegradable under industrial / anaerobic composting conditions. There is no evidence to prove PLA biodegradability in soil, home compost or landfill.

The question for many 3D printing users is therefore, “how can I recycle my PLA 3D printing waste?”.

Thankfully, there are a few solutions available, as explained below.

How to Recycle PLA 3D prints into Up-cycled Products

Upcycling is defined as, “the conversion of waste materials to something useful or valuable”. After investigating this in relation to 3D printing waste, it turns out there are many online resources available about upcycling PLA into new products. One notable example is this Instructables article, which explains how to melt PLA plastic before it can then be cut (e.g. laser cutting) to make new products from material which would otherwise be waste.

Another upcycling solution could be in the form of Ecobricks. An ecobrick is a PET bottle packed with used plastic, which utilised as ‘building blocks’ short-term use in modular units, lego-furniture and open spaces.

For those interested, this Filamentive article explored how Ecobricks could solve the 3D Printing Waste Problem.

How to Recycle PLA 3D prints into New Filament

Whilst recycling failed and waste 3d prints into filament can prove challenging, it is certainly not infeasible and some large-volume 3D printing users have indeed implemented an in-situ recycling system to turn waste PLA into 100% recycled filament for subsequent 3D printing.

Make–ReMake is one of our favourite examples of this. In order to be as sustainable as possible, architectural practice, Make invested in a SHR3D IT Recycler, Airid Polymer Dryer and Precision Filament Maker from 3devo, enabling them to recycle 3D prints into new PLA filament – a fully closed-loop production process in the comfort of their model-making studio.

How to Recycle PLA 3D via a Waste Recycling Service

Whilst the above solution has the potential to eliminate waste and also reduce on-going material costs, it’s important to note that such a process can be expensive, labour intensive, and be susceptible to quality issues.

So, what is the solution for recycling PLA if making your own filament is not viable?

In short, you may wish to consider a PLA recycling service. In the UK, 3D Printing Waste provides this – offering viable recycling solutions for PLA 3D-printed waste that is not currently recycled, preventing further plastic pollution and helping to make 3D printing less environmentally impactful.

Filamentive Recycled PLA Filament UK

Whilst recycling PLA 3D printer waste helps reduce plastic pollution, it is also important to consider the use of recycled materials for 3D printing in the first instance to further reduce environmental impact arising from plastic waste.

In-line with ISO 14021, Filamentive prioritises recycled material for filament production, with a focus on pre-consumer recycled material, which is diverted from the waste stream during a manufacturing process.

Filamentive are a provider of recycled PLA filament, UK supplied.

In doing so, Filamentive are reducing waste plastic to landfill, minimising extraction of new material and ultimately providing a sustainable source of material for 3D printing users.

There is no perfect solution however there are many practical options available to 3D printing users when it comes to recycling PLA 3D printing waste. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list and instead serves to aid your decision-making, with respect to own 3D printing volume, budget requirements and feasibility.